NTOU-led research team turns herbs into germ killers

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Sep 11, 2019 - Page 1

A team led by National Taiwan Ocean University (NTOU) researchers yesterday announced a technique to turn herbal substances into “bio-carbon dots” for treating bacterial and viral infections, which could reduce people’s reliance on antibiotics.

As antibiotic resistance has turned some bacteria into “superbugs,” the team aims to replace more antibiotics with herbal extracts that are less toxic and have greater biocompatibility, NTOU Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology professor Huang Chih-ching (黃志清) told a news conference at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taipei.

The global antibiotics industry has only introduced one or two antibiotics per year over the past decade and the WHO has urged the development of products capable of treating bacteria with antibiotic resistance, Huang said.

In 2015, the team extracted curative substances from herbs and developed a technique that used dry heat to turn them into bio-carbon dots, as a way to amplify their anti-inflammatory and antiviral functions, he said.

Unlike traditional Chinese herbal medicine, the team aims to add the bio-carbon dots to healthcare products, he said.

Huang said he worked with department professor Lin Han-jia (林翰佳) to develop bio-carbon dots that could be added to wound dressings to limit the growth of several bacteria, including one of the so-called superbugs — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

He also worked with department associate professor Chen Siou-yi (陳秀儀) and Chang Kung University associate professor Wang Yung-liang (王永樑) to elevate the water solubility and curative efficacy of curcumin so that it can be used to treat enteroviruses, Huang said.

The team, with the help of Chang Kung University biomedical engineering professor Lai Jui-yang (賴瑞陽), also developed a formulation of bio-carbon dots to treat bacterial keratitis, Huang said, adding that the formulation only uses one-10th of the sulfonamide typically used in eye drops, but have greater curative effect.

The team has published their findings in the journals Advanced Healthcare Materials, ACS Nano and Small.

The team is inspired by and respects the tradition of Chinese herbal medicine, Lin said, adding that it is creating a new “molecular gastronomy” of curative herbs.

The team’s technique has been patented in Taiwan and can serve as a platform for more applications, including food additives and cosmetics products, Lin said.

With the ministry’s funding, the team also founded the company Giant Bio Tech (炬銨科技), Lin added.